Actions speak louder than words.
Warrnambool City councillors took a significant step this week when they voted against giving themselves a pay rise they were entitled.
The 5-1 vote to reject a two per cent rise approved by the government state was a welcome surprise to ratepayers.
Warrnambool’s seven councillors cost ratepayers more than $246,000 each year, with the mayor receiving $76,521 and the six other councillors $24,730 each, plus superannuation. The decision to forgo a total of $4498 means that money can be used elsewhere. In the scheme of the council’s $85 million budget, it’s insignificant. But it’s the thought that counts.
Ratepayers, until the introduction of a state government-imposed rate cap in, were tiring of the annual 5%+ rise in rates.
Cr Peter Hulin said although the annual allowance was not enough to cover the loss councillors who were business owners suffered when shutting their shops for council business, led the way.
“We have just done the budget and we realise how tight things are,” he said.
“I think it would be a good gesture for council to forego the rise to show the people that we understand that we have to pull our heads in too if we are expecting them to pay more. At this time we should show we are prepared to go without as well.”
Cr Sue Cassidy said elected representatives had to lead the way in making efficiencies.
“With what has been happening over the last 18 months with the city centre renewal and rate capping, I don’t believe that a pay rise is warranted. How can we justify a pay rise when we may be looking at a variation in rates for our ratepayers in the future?”
Given the pain traders have suffered during Liebig Street works, councillors made the right call. It reflected the mood of traders but ratepayers more broadly.
As far as public relations exercises go, it was as good as it gets. Yet the cynics dismissed it as a stunt and wondered if it was part of a softening up strategy to seek a rate rise higher than the state-imposed cap – a possibility suggested by Cr Cassidy.
Cr Hulin’s revelation that the budget is tight is also worth exploring. Does that mean there is pain to come? Will there be cuts to services, rises in fees? The devil could yet be in the detail. On face value, the councillors should be congratulated but it appears they were damned if they did accept the pay rise and equally damned if they didn’t.